Monday, January 18

More KickStarter Thoughts

As I'm sure you know, I'm not a fan of KickStarter (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B), until this week I've only backed one project on KickStarter, and as unlikely as it seems, it wasn't a board game.

This distrust of KickStarter, coupled with my natural risk-adversity meant I didn't consider KickStarter as a potential vehicle for Zombology last year, I just chose to repeat the most successful period of my Reiver Games days: the hand-made games. As it turned out, I didn't even manage that, with the promotion at work meaning I limited my ambitions even further to just making enough copies for the twenty fans who pre-ordered a copy when I announced the 150 copy run back in June.

What has got me thinking about KickStarter again, and what a game changer it is for the hobby board game publishing industry is my mate Tim. I've known Tim for nearly twenty-five years and we've spent that period gaming together at every opportunity, from Magic in the early days through miniatures, computer games and board games. Tim and I live about 200 miles apart (and have done for twenty years), but despite the distance and our two young families we try to get together a few times a year for some gaming (which now features his young son during the day and then late night sessions just the two of us after our wives bow out at a sensible time). Tim's been a professional computer games programmer for eighteen years and he's been working on a social deduction board game for the last year or two. When we've got together we've discussed and played it together and I've been providing (hopefully helpful!) information about board games publishing and playtested it for him too. Tim decided to go down the KickStarter route from the get-go, the game is themed around nobles poisoning each other at a formal banquet and he wanted the game to come with goblets and napkins for the full atmospheric effect. Clearly, this wasn't going to be something he could just cobble together like I've done for Zombology. Tim's done the research, sent preview copies to a whole bunch of very enthusiastic reviewers and got it live on KickStarter this week.

It's a really fun game, so I was one of the first backers (to be honest, I would have been even if I didn't like it! Tim's backed me through many years of games publishing, it's great to be able to return the favour), which means I'm now watching his KickStarter enfold.

Until now, I've almost entirely avoided KickStarter for board games. I pay no attention to games being KickStarted, I don't visit the KickStarter website, I don't read the Crowdfunding round-ups on BGG or anything. I know it's completely changed the market, from established publishers like Queen Games using it, through the new publishers like Tasty Minstrel and Stonemaier whose business models revolve around, to the massive successes of any project involving miniatures and Exploding Kittens. But I'm aware of it in the loosest possible sense.

So I'm watching Tim start his company by publishing his first game while thinking of my first attempt with Border Reivers and my second almost attempt with Zombology last year. It took me a year to sell 100 copies of Border Reivers (and co-incidentally a year to hand-make the damn things), a year during which I went to conventions, games clubs, ran competitions on BGG and blogged obsessively. Tim got his first 100 sales within 48 hours. I didn't consider getting a game professionally manufactured until I'd got two games and 400 sales under my belt because the £15,000 outlay scared the pants off me (thankfully most of it was life insurance money!). Tim's outlay is vastly smaller than that, and he will go straight to professional manufacturing with the money in hand from pre-ordering customers (assuming his KickStarter is successful). The two stories couldn't be more different. It's probably just as well that I got promoted and bottled out of starting up another publishing company, I'm now hopelessly out of date and my plan of hand-crafting 150 copies looks like something from the last century to a market that lives on KickStarter, as evidenced by the fact that it took me six months to get 25 pre-orders for Zombology.

Obviously, Tim's got it easier because he's got a great game with neat components, fantastic art (it helps working with computer game artists!) and slick videos and website, but watching his backers climb towards his goal reminds me how much has changed since I was struggling to service my bank loan during the latter stages of Reiver Games.

Anyway, please check out Tim's KickStarter if it sounds like something you'd be interested in - I need it to get funded so I can get my prototype upgraded into a proper copy :-)

In other news, I've made good progress on Zombology this week towards my goal of finishing the limited edition run this month. I've now got 25 copies completely finished and by tomorrow will have shipped 20 of those. Nearly there!


Unknown said...

I just re-read those other two post about KS, and I do see your point. KS is (sort of) a democracy, and I think an analogy with real life politics is pretty solid (for better and worse!).

I think where KS beats traditional publishing is by encouraging (requiring!) creativity. KS forces designers to make a game that stands-out, so you're not going to get anywhere without a perfect storm of hook and appealing theme. You've got this enormous Darwinian population of tiny games, all vying for attention. And it's the most creative, striking, leanest games which catch people's eye.

It does mean there's the risk of style without substance, but (a) at least there's bags of style and (b) I think KS supporters are increasingly canny about that risk - and you often hear comments on the lines of "I'd never back a project without having seen rules / PnP / gameplay video".

While there's no official gatekeeper like with traditional publishing, you won't even get off the starting blocks without having caught the interest of a few that previewers, bloggers, news sites, or Wil Wheaton!

I'm sure there are a lot of chancers on KS, but I don't rate their chances. The creators I've met on the KS Creator / Board Game Publisher groups all treat it extremely seriously and responsibly, and the quality, depth, polish and detail you get on KS pages is amazingly high.

Having said all that, I do kind of wish there were some kind of 'crap filter' on KS - some Council of unimpeachable impartial experts who could shut down projects without merit, sparing the public and press from getting bombarded by their attempts to publicise, and the creator from banging their heads against the wall. Not very democratic, I admit. :)

Jackson Pope said...

Hiya Tim,

Good points all round. I guess my fear is that the style over substance means that rubbish but pretty games can get through rather than the good but ugly ones!

Having to win over the influencers does mean that there is a gatekeeper of sorts though, I'd not though of it like that.